ALMATY -- Kazakhstan's government has begun a nationwide project aimed at digitising the nation's justice system in a move seen by many specialists as a step towards transparency.
The project seeks to protect citizens' rights during the criminal process, speed up investigations and cut criminal justice system expenses, according to those involved.
Kazakhstan will digitise the entire justice process by 2018 -- beginning with the initial allegation and continuing through the investigation, judicial and punishment phases, said the General Prosecutor's Office.
Law enforcement agencies are already transitioning to the new format, Amanjol Mukhamedyarov, a lawyer from the Astana Bar Association who has been involved in the project since its start in 2016, told Caravanserai.
The first agency to launch a pilot project to introduce e-criminal cases was the Economic Investigation Service, whose offices in Astana and in Karaganda Province began using the system in September 2016, he said. Two district police stations, one each in Astana and in Zhambyl Province, began experimenting with the system in August this year.
Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) is also interested in implementing the system because it has demonstrated positive results.
"The pluses are many -- transparency for the criminal process, quick access to case materials and high quality defence for citizens during the criminal process," Mukhamedyarov said.
Transitioning to electronic forms
As soon as an investigator initiates a criminal case, he or she immediately starts filling out official electronic forms online, Mukhamedyarov said.
Witnesses, suspects and the suspects' lawyers sign electronic forms on the investigator's tablet, he said, adding that the investigator does not print a single document.
After being signed, all investigatory protocols are immediately uploaded to the database, which is stored on a server at the Committee for Legal Statistics and Special Accounts of the General Prosecutor's Office, he added.
At the same time, the investigator cannot delete or change anything in the database -- not a single document can be retroactively filled out.
"As a lawyer, I have access to all case materials," Mukhamedyarov said. "I can familiarise myself with them and print them out for my files. And what's very important is that I don't have to wait long hours in the halls of investigatory agencies."
Moving away from 'archaic' bureaucracy
Bagdat Mussin, chairman of the Committee for Legal Statistics and Special Accounts, said the agency is saying "goodbye" to the "archaic method" of transferring information in hard copy.
"For many years, about 50 employees processed more than 300,000 announcements and file cards each year, [each] containing information about court decisions, punishments and the movement and release of convicts from correctional facilities," he wrote on his Facebook page. "In order to ensure the completeness of the data, tonnes of paper were sent from one agency to another within the country."
The process required not only human resources but considerable government funding, said Mussin.
As part of the digitisation process, the General Prosecutor's database this year was integrated with the database of the Interior Ministry's penal system committee, he said.
Workers already have uploaded all information about prison inmates, and work is under way to establish analytic tools, he said.
Protecting information from hackers, terror attacks
With such databases holding key information about investigations and individuals, authorities are wary about cybersecurity.
In order to secure the database from terrorists or hackers, it is essential to establish a network array consisting of several servers, IT specialist Jandos Urazov of Almaty told Caravanserai.
"One server that houses the General Prosecutor Office's database, for example, is situated in Almaty, and information from it is mirrored on a server in Karaganda," he said.
That information "in turn is copied to a server in Kokshetau", added Urazov.
"If the archive in Almaty is attacked, then copies will remain in the two other locations," he said.